The Hawaiian monk seal, known to native Hawaiians as ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua, or “dog that runs in rough water,” now faces much worse conditions than choppy waves. Thanks to threats like limited food availability, entanglement in fishing gear, predation and disease, this federally endangered seal has seen dramatic population declines in the last half-century that have left it one of the world's most imperiled marine mammals. Add to those threats the ever-worsening effects of global warming — which interferes with delicate marine ecosystems and causes sea-level rise that endangers seal pupping beaches — and it's no surprise that the Hawaiian monk seal's population is expected to plunge to fewer than 1,000 animals in the next few years.

The Center has been working to protect the Hawaiian monk seal since 2000, when we and allies filed suit against the National Marine Fisheries Service for letting a lobster fishery and bottomfish fishery further deplete the seal's food supply, invade critical habitat, and interfere with key life activities. A federal judge ruled that both fisheries were in violation of the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act, and the lobster fishery was shut down the very same year.

And there is still hope for the seal: Even as its numbers tumble downward in its core range on the northwestern Hawaiian islands, seals are increasingly inhabiting the main Hawaiian islands, where pups are healthy and the population is on the rise. To give the species a chance at survival, the Center petitioned the administration under the Endangered Species Act to grant the seal protected habitat not only on the northwestern islands but on the main islands as well — and in August 2015, the Obama administration expanded the seal's critical habitat to almost 7,000 square miles.

Photo courtesy NOAA